Connecticut Secretary of State to implement automatic voter registration through unique agreement with the DMV

Connecticut is getting automatic voter registration, and it didn’t even have to pass a bill.

That’s because the Secretary of State’s office announced yesterday that they had entered into an agreement with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to change the way they comply with the federal motor-voter law on an administrative level.

The policy will go into full effect two years from now, while changes to the voter registration process at the DMV will be streamlined in other ways in the meantime. According to a press release from the Secretary of State’s office, these changes “include a provision for a unified application for licensing and voter registration at DMV offices while the broader automated system is built.”

When the automated system is rolled out, the DMV will share data relevant to voter registration with the Secretary of State’s office automatically, allowing citizens to update their registration every time they renew their drivers license or engage in some other interaction with the agency. As the Secretary of State’s office explained in February, when they first proposed the change:

The data provided to the DMV would populate a voter registration form. An ‘e-signature’ program would permit an electronic signature to be collected so the client could certify citizenship; accept or refuse to register to vote or affiliate with a party. The registration applications would be electronically transmitted to the Registrars of Voters.

This makes Connecticut the fifth state to adopt automatic voter registration, and the first to do so without legislation. By simply agreeing to switch their compliance with the federal motor-voter law from opt-in to opt-out, Connecticut could serve as a model for other states (fine, blue states) who want to make it easier for their citizens to register to vote without running the risk of the policy getting tied up, watered down or paired with an objectionable policy (say, voter ID) in the legislature.

While it’s technically true that a future administration less-favorably disposed to automatic voter registration could undo the system if it wasn’t backed by legislation, there’s little reason to suspect that they would. Once an automated process such as the one being proposed here is in place, it’s really hard to justify going back to a less-efficient, manual system. Especially if the only reason for doing so is purely partisan — as in, lacking any bureaucratic justification.

The specifics may vary from state to state, but I’d imagine that in at least a few of them there’s no real reason why they can’t implement automatic voter registration as Connecticut plans to — without legislation. The policy is wholly unobjectionable, and all it requires is for a state to change how it complies with an existing federal law — not whether it will comply in the first place. So as long as there’s nothing on the books specifying that the DMV and other state agencies have to give people an opportunity to register to vote on an opt-in basis, they don’t need to change the books themselves in order to switch that to opt-out.

Voila. Automatic voter registration.

According to a recent report from Demos, automatic voter registration via the DMV would add 312,000 people to Connecticut’s voter rolls. Their current governor, Dan Molloy, won his race in 2014 by just over 27,000 votes.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • P+T

    Oregon now has automatic voter registration through the DMV, and a record number of ballots were cast in this week’s primary. But as the article below states, it’s not unclear what impact the new voter registration system actually had on turnout. Still, 52.7% for a primary election is very high compared with other states this year. See:

    State’s voter turnout will set record
    Portland Tribune
    May 18, 2016

    More than a million Oregonians cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, meeting expectations set early this week by election officials that a record number of voters would participate.

    However, the turnout rate was lower than in the presidential primary eight years ago and it was unclear what impact the state’s new automatic voter registration system had on the election results. Oregon has several hundred thousand more registered voters than eight years ago.

    “It’s an important symbolic threshold, but also the state is growing,” said Paul Gronke, a political science professor and director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College. “It’s sort of like those box office records that have been broken every year. They’re kind of meaningless.”

    According to unofficial totals from the Secretary of State’s Office, 1,208,659 votes were cast, for a turnout of 52.7 percent.

    Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said it was only the second time primary turnout has topped the million vote mark, and this year’s total broke the previous record. The first time was 2008, when turnout was driven by the Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Turnout was significantly higher in that primary, at 58.26 percent, and 1,170,526 votes were cast.

  • Blogvader

    It’s nice to see a little common sense somewhere in this country.

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  • slavdude

    As with the other states that have this, though, is Connecticut’s population mostly homogeneous? That unfortunately seems to be the pattern with automatic voter registration, and the opposite is true for voter suppression.

  • Too bad registration doesn’t actually make people get out and vote.

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